Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener got off to one of the hottest starts in the nation in 2021 and could very well be one of the best signal-callers in college football heading into the 2022 season.
Five of Haener’s first six games of the season saw him pass for at least 300 yards with a high of 455 yards. The Bulldogs won all but two of those games, with a close 27-24 loss to Hawaii and a 31-24 loss in a competitive game against No. 11-ranked Oregon. The team only lost one more game that season as Haener ended the year off with a 67.1% completion percentage, 4,096 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.
Several were watching to see if he would declare for the 2022 NFL Draft but he decided against it, entering the transfer portal after some coaching changes and then ultimately deciding to stay at Fresno State—a decision that some have called a mistake because of the differences between last year’s quarterback class and the upcoming one for the 2023 NFL Draft.
It’s no mistake, but rather a calculated move for Haener, who bets on himself.
“Definitely credit to my teammates and the people around me,” Haener said of last year’s success. “They’ve done a really good job and we’ve got a lot of guys coming back this year. That was a big piece of me coming back and deciding to stay here. Having coach Jeff (Tedford) coming back was a big piece for us. Coach (Ryan) Grubb went to Washington, but last year, having him push me and never allow me to be comfortable in the situation I was in was big for me. He was a mentor for me and gave me everything I needed to be successful.”
There were several high points for Haener last season with big wins over ranked teams like UCLA (40-37) and San Diego State (30-20)—the quarterback passed for 455 yards and 306 yards in those games, respectively. But with the highs came maintaining a steady mindset.
“I think UNLV was a really good game for me after we weren’t really clicking offensively for the first quarter and a half and coming after the UCLA game, realizing after that night that you’ve got to play a whole other game and you’ve got a bunch of other games to play,” Haener said.
“Something like that happens and it’s such a big moment. You’ve got to flush everything and that’s definitely going to help me for this year. Just the moments you go through, being on a high, flushing it, and moving on to the next week. But I thought going into UNLV that I was banged up and that we needed to go in and find a way to win and we did.”
Haener and the Bulldogs did just that, defeating the Rebels 38-30 as Haener completed more than 71% of his passes for 378 yards with five touchdowns and one interception—and he did it all after gritting through a right hip injury to secure a win over the No. 13-ranked Bruins with one of the most notable plays across college football that week.
“I have never been in that situation before, with that pain while trying to throw,” Haener said after the game. “I literally felt like I could barely throw the ball at that point, so that kind of sucked. That was really the first time that I’ve had to do that in that situation…I couldn’t really rotate. I was just trying to keep my balance so I could use whatever I had to get the ball out there and try to make something happen with whatever time we had left. You’ve just got to find a way at those points, and we made it happen.”
It wasn’t long after that victory over UCLA, though, that Haener and the Bulldogs hit a tough point in the season when they found themselves having to work through a lot of difficulties in a way that didn’t always have the end result they were chasing—but they made it through with a more than respectable final record.
“There were some rough patches weeks six through 10,” Haener said. “ But I think battling through it and finding those adverse moments and getting over the top and winning 10 games including our bowl game was something that was really important for the program and us as a team moving forward into 2022.”
Haener, who had four games in that stretch with a completion percentage that didn’t touch 60%, was working on injury problems that seemed to stick with him for a while.
“I was battling through some injuries and some things I needed to get over… I had some problems with my lower leg and my hip and stuff like that was kind of lingering and it was really an issue for me,” Haener said. “I had to wear different cleats and do a bunch of things with my cleats and find ways to get out there and play and tough it through things. It was just a matter of responding. Even the best of players have bad games, everybody has bad games. You learn from your failures and try to be more successful down the road.”
Obviously, the injuries were out of Haener’s control and the way he was still able to perform through them was admirable looking at his game from both a tangibles and intangibles perspective. He’s maintained a strong level of leadership ability that projects well and he’s largely been accurate and has shown good poise in the pocket regardless of the situation or the circumstances.
Heading into 2022 at full capacity, he’s looking forward to expanding upon the wide array of positives he showed in 2021. Some of what he’s doing at the line of scrimmage could be different, but to this point, he’s had a lot of control there and should have more of the same going into his last season of college football.
“We’re still working through things this year with the new coaching staff and what they expect of me as far as what I’m calling at the line,” Haener said. “I have free range to pretty much do whatever I think is necessary to get in and out of protections, keep the running back in, move the tight end in to get into some more max pro situations, and do different things in the run game as far as box count goes. I could change the routes on the outside if I saw different coverages. I could do a lot of different things and I did take advantage of that a lot, from a run play to a pass play, if I saw a coverage we had talked about through the week that allowed us to get to those looks. I definitely took a big jump from 2020 and 2021 as far as changing protections and bringing people in, changing plays, and doing things in the run game. I think I’ll just take another step in that area and what I can handle.”
Self-improvement is something that Haener is focused on this offseason as he prepares to go into what he confidently believes will be a huge year for Fresno State. Limiting turnovers, though he only had nine total interceptions to 490 passing attempts, is something he notes, as is game-management and not playing hero ball when it’s unnecessary.
“I really only had issues turning the ball over in two games. But when I did turn the ball over it obviously was an issue,” Haener said. “I don’t want to force the ball. I need to make some better decisions in five or six throws and if you do that, things are different. Doing that and being a complete game manager when I have to be and not trying to be a playmaker all the time and understanding that little things can lead to big success.”
Making it to the Mountain West Conference Championship is something the Bulldogs have the pieces in place to accomplish and between that and some fine-tuning, there’s plenty of reason to believe Haener could be sitting pretty as far as quarterback prospect rankings go by the end of the season.
“Winning the conference championship is a goal for us and myself,” Haener said. The only thing that really matters at the quarterback position is wins. I know everyone gets infatuated by stats, but if you’re winning, that’s the end game. If we’re winning games, we’re doing something right.
“I’m going to do everything I can to help us win games… limiting turnovers and winning the conference championship are two big goals for me and if I do that, I’m going to like where I am in December.”